Just How Safe is Christopher Street?

| 16 Feb 2015 | 10:58

Village residents say violence is up in the area, and not enough is being done to stop it In the early-morning hours after the Saturday night party scene started winding down on Sept, 1, a young woman was attacked and beaten by three women outside of Henrietta Hudson, a well-known lesbian bar on Hudson Street, a few blocks south of Christopher Street. The assailants stole the woman's phone, and punched her so hard that she would later have to have surgery. The three perpetrators later assaulted a middle-aged couple inside the nearby PATH station. The women were arraigned later that day for two counts of robbery and gang assault. "I was horrified and shocked, I have to tell you," said Lisa Cannistraci, the owner of Henrietta Hudson. "I didn't realize something like this could happen. That's not the village I know." It may sound like a footnote in any police blotter, but this kind of incident is all too common near Christopher Street - the area in the West Village most known for the start of the gay rights movement and its LGBT-friendly party scene. In the past two years, as crime has declined to nearly all the rest of New York City, it has spiked in the area around Christopher Street. There is an 18 percent increase in crimes overall in the 6th precinct since 2011, according to NYPD statistics, with the highest jumps in misdeanor sex crimes (up 63 percent in the past two years), grand larceny (up 32 percent) and felony assault (up 24 percent). The NYPD did not respond to requests for interviews to discuss crime in the area. "Some people accept that this is just the way Christopher Street is," said Dave Poster, the president of the Christopher Street Patrol, a neighborhood watch group, and a member of the West Village Guardian Angels. "I certainly don't accept it. So much doesn't even get reported and you'll never really know the story unless you walk down these streets and live here. The funny part of it is, it's much better than it used to be." Villagers are still reeling from the violence that occurred in May, when Mark Carson, an openly gay man who was a regular at Boots and Saddles, a gay bar on Christopher Street, was shot and killed after men hurled gay slurs at him. After that incident police swarmed the area, said Poster. Recently, however, the attention has cooled. "One of my friends was assaulted last night. Do we have to form our own fucking patrols?" wrote Sean Robertson, a Brooklyn resident, on the Christopher Street Partnership, the street's unofficial BID and activist group. Trouble on Christopher Street extends all the way west to the pier, according to Poster, where displaced LGBT youth gather and start fights. But many of the area's issues stem from bridge and tunnel youths visiting the neighborhood at night and causing trouble, said Robert Zeigler, who owns Boots and Saddles. The three women arrested last week, for instance, were from New Jersey. Zeigler also specifically said that drug dealers hang out in front of Karavas Pizza and Pita two doors down from him. "Someone gets mugged around me about once a night," said Zeigler. "Since they re-did Times Square, all the bad folks came down here. They could clean it up if they wanted to. We've been getting gay-bashed here for the past six months. I don't blame the 6th Precinct but I just don't think they have enough man-power." Zeigler recalled an incident from just a couple of weeks ago, when a regular of his had his eye busted open and had to have surgery. "It's sad because this is one of the best neighborhoods in the city and it's not being treated right," said Zeigler. "A lot of people are afraid to come forward," said Dan Esko, a West Village resident who says that he has been harassed and attacked several times. "There are people who you might say are the groupies for the police, they give the impression that everything is fine, they report that crime is down. But I can't even negotiate the streets walking home."(http://nypress.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Christopher-Street.jpg) Esko said that he scoffs and laughs at the police lights that are dotted throughout the Village, which are supposed to provide a literal beacon of light and safety for residents. Poster, however, said that the bright lights are a deterrent to drug dealers and "Johns" who would feel uncomfortable doing their business in a brightly-lit area. Many of Christopher Street's problems don't just happen at night. Residents have said that incidents occur during the daytime - public lewdness and exposure, street harassment and loitering - and they go unreported to the police. According to 311 records, there were a few reports of homeless encampments as well as public drinking this summer around the Christopher Street station, but not as many as word of mouth complaints would suggest. Jessica Berk, a longtime resident and creator of the Christopher Street Partnership, said that there is really not much to be done about harassment or lewdness on the street. She said that when she is walking down the street and walks past groups of young people, they will bump or jostle her on purpose, and are looking to cause trouble. Berk also specifically mentioned "Marvin," one of the West Village characters, who stands around the Christopher Street station shouting obscenities and throwing things at passersby. The 6th Precinct knows Marvin, she said, but the officers simply laugh off his actions. "Even if I call the police, he will just stop yelling or walk away before they get there," said Berk. The solution, said Berk, and many other community members, is more police presence. "People are afraid to go to the police," Poster said. "We've tried more things than you will believe, but what we need is more boots on the ground."